‘Joiner’ photos while they have an affinity with Cubism are not Cubist works in themselves; being made within the post-modern period by a ‘pop’ artist comfortable and happy with the eye-fooling illusionism of various modes of representation he uses.
The eye-fooling illusionism of ‘joiner’ works, photo-collages or photomontages by David Hockney made an important contribution to British ‘pop’ art but also has an affinity with the most influential of all movements, Cubism and in particular Pablo Picasso.
Cubism grew out of the movements of Symbolism, Post-Impressionism and Impressionism and each questioned the Renaissance views of art. The Impressionists wanted to only capture the images of the world, as the artist perceived it. Post-Impressionists were more subjective and guided by their emotions as much as the scene before them. The Symbolists rejected appearances altogether in favour of a real world behind them or a world of dreams. However, it was from the artistic style of Avant-Garde where Cubism emerged through artists such as, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. In the early stages, Cubist painters had begun with a more naturalistic image. Later, it was then fragmented and analysed with the view of the Cubist concepts of space and form.
Cubism’s depiction of space and form clearly contradicted a rational or orderly treatment of space, form and light, where the shapes and locations of objects are clear within the painting. While the more traditional Renaissance paintings used the technique of chiaroscuro to define the objects as well as their location in space within the painting. Cubist’s works have a variety of perspectives rather than one viewpoint. Cubist’s justified the multiple points of perspective on the basis of there being multiple moments of time depicted in one painting.
While Picasso and Braque were playing with strips of coloured paper and other collage elements they conceived a new process for Cubist works. The term ‘collage’ refers to works in which various kinds of oilcloth or objects are pasted and incorporated into the work of art. The practice of collage was unique in several ways, (a) collage represented a deliberate rejection of the traditional and stable materials of which painting had been made since the Renaissance, (b) the use of glue, influenced by Braque’s training as a house decorator, (c) collage removed the sense of the ‘hand’ of the artist by shifting the ‘master’s touch’ to cutting, gluing and placing, (d) collage allowed an abandonment of illusionism.
Picasso and Braque had evolved the two-dimensional works to three dimensional, by using the canvas in a different way. They built up the canvas by assembling a series of abstract shapes, or overlapping areas to show compositional forms. Defying the rules of perspective, the objects are tilted so that the painting and or sculpture have more than one viewpoint. The artist was no longer obliged to depict objects naturalistically.
Cubist works show glimpses of figures at different moments in time. The elements in the paintings and sculptures are visible, items are tilted, perspectives altered, depths of field has focus and not in focus, there are geometric shapes, planes intersect arbitrarily and light is treated as form.
This sets the scene beautifully for twentieth century art and design and brings us to David Hockney who was influenced greatly by Pablo Picasso and abstraction. So influenced was he that his first major paintings had a cubist look with abstract space. Continuing to follow in the footsteps of Picasso, Hockney was asked by Igor Stravinsky to design the sets and costumes of Stravinsky’s opera “The Rakes Progress” and so began a string of future set designs.
For Hockney, Cubism marked a shift away from the Renaissance one point perspective and that of naturalism. For him Cubism represented a breakthrough from centuries of tradition. It reintroduced space and time to his art. Cubism and Picasso became tied to Hockney’s works. He wanted his works to introduce three artistic elements, which a single photograph could not show, a layering of time, space and narrative. Time and space are central to Cubist works and as Hockney believes that a single photograph shows only a single point in time , there is no narrative or sense of time. In 1982, he embarked on a series of works made up of assembled photographs, applying the concepts of Cubism, of time and space, to a different technology.
Hockney experimented with photo-collages, photomontages referring to them as ‘joiners’. A joiner consists of a series of photographs taken from different viewpoints, composed to form a single piece of work. Here Hockney is able to change the shape of the space and introduce an element of time to the work. The final composition creates a narrative, the story is revealed, and it is a photo story.
In 1982, he exhibited his Polaroid collages under the title “Drawings with a Camera” which made the distinction between pencil drawing and his process of joiners. He wanted to point out that he was drawing his joiners. He argued that he had to make the same decisions as if he were pencil drawing regarding texture, colour, placement, have something in the background out of focus or in focus, he saw the camera as simply a pencil and that you would get different results depending on who picks it up. That aspect is so true. Give a person a camera or a pencil and you will have different images of the same subject, every person comes to it from a different perspective and emphasis. Every person will come to the task with a variety of skills and so the result will always have differences.
Hockney understood the importance of relating the individual photographs to one another as a kind of drawing. This enabled Hockney to extend his interest of early Modern Art, particularly the work of Picasso.
During the 1980s Hockney focused on a new technique for creating photographic collages, which he termed ‘joiners’. Hockney’s aim was to show a visible element of time into the photographic images, which normally would represent only captured moments. Hockney created this style of art by taking Polaroid’s and arranging them into a grid layout, as Fig 1. In some cases when taking the photographs of portraits the subject would move while being photographed so that the piece would show the movements as seen from the photographer’s perspective. The final piece creates time, space and a narrative, which was crucial for a Cubist approach, the story was revealed.
Hockney in 1982 produced a photographic collage called Yellow Guitar Still Life, that imitated a Cubist still life painting; he used a technique of Picasso and Braque’s where an object is depicted via a conglomeration of numerous details and facets.
Reading Cubist works is difficult because you don’t really know whether the artist’s aim is to represent reality as it is or from the artist’s viewpoint, or both. With Cubist paintings the artist relies on the viewer to capture the recognisable elements in order to communicate to them.
This photographic collage represents a guitar within a living room. The viewer can see the Cubist style look of the collage. The image as a whole is made up of individual Polaroid photographs, placed in such a way that the composition forms the whole picture. You can see the guitar from different angles and different sections of the guitar and from its shadow in the top right. There is a Los Angeles newspaper along the top left side, and at the bottom a distorted view of the living room; you can clearly see the shiny, highly polished wooden floorboards, and the cane coffee table (very 80s décor). On the coffee table there are artificially made fruits and vegetables, an unopened wine bottle, and the guitar is sitting upright on the coffee table. The décor sets the time that the painting is depicting, and the newspaper is giving a location, so already the viewer has an era and location, 1980s, Los Angeles. The puzzle is forming. The clue of the living room and coffee table gives the viewer an understanding of the space that the collage is representing. The guitar, unopened wine bottle and the artificial fruit and vegetables are placed in such a way that the viewer is watching a composition being placed. Now the viewer can immediately place that the collage is depicting a photographic collage set in the 1980s, Los Angeles, a guitar in a living room, composed as a still life, in a Cubist inspired style.
Cubist works make use of shifting viewpoints, for example, we can look at the guitar from above while standing over it, from the side when we sit down, then from below when we sit on the floor. Hockney attempts to capture this from his photographs. Do I dare comment that Hockney uses the Cubist style as a conceptual approach to his ‘painting’ with a camera? Elements and items with curves become flattened and are seen as shapes and by placing them at various viewpoints creates movement through time and the space of the painting.
Guitars as a general element seemed to play heavily in Cubist art, Pablo Picasso; Still life with Guitar was no exception, in fact there is a whole series on Picasso’s guitars.
This sculpture by Pablo Picasso is of a guitar. He has constructed this guitar from paperboard/cardboard, paper, string, and painted wire. These materials were cut, folded, threaded and glued. Picasso’s silent deconstructed instrument is a sculpture that had never been seen before. It had multiple viewpoints and the guitar itself is a fractured piece.
This sculpture clearly is of the Cubist style and even the deconstruction of the piece does not detract the viewer from seeing the guitar, the main elements are recognisable features of a guitar, the neck, the strings, the curved body of the guitar are still seen by the viewer. You cannot mistake for what it is, a guitar. But there is one other element, that this piece although being clearly a guitar, is foremost a silent instrument, for it will never play a sound, the viewer can imagine the sound of a guitar but not of this one. So you may not be able to hear the sound but use you’re past knowledge and experience to know what sound it could have made.
Picasso pinned up several groups of drawings and papiers colles (refers to various kinds of paper only made collages ) for cardboard Guitar, possibly as a model and drawings for the construction and installation, a work in progress. This model and drawings would have shown how the light fell and shadows formed on the construction, or deconstruction. This is an example of Picasso’s and Braque’s Synthetic Cubism and shows a break away from traditional mediums in western art. How did Picasso get to this stage?
What could cause such a radical turning away from the recognisable world? Cubism emerged during a time of widespread dissatisfaction with the nineteenth century thinking. Underlying this was the belief that scientific research held the key to understanding life, that the future could be predicted on the basis of scientific models. It is understandable that Cubists turned to new models of geometry and the fourth dimension as inspiration for works.
In 1907, Picasso painted himself in the Cubist style. His features of large eyes and nose have a sense of sculpture yet it has a flat look to it. What should have been a three-dimensional view has been changed to a flattened image. The eyes have a blank stare to them, yet the man has a content look, maybe innocent look. Did Picasso see himself as an innocent man? The picture is so close it could be a headshot rather than his bust portrait. The facial features have angular jawline, cheeks and nose. There are angular planes on the shirt and jacket. The colours of the painting are complementary which helps to see this painting in a pleasing way, you drawn to it because of the colours. There is definitely nothing Renaissance in the look of the painting, no fine curves of the facial features or the colouring of the skin. No classical look, which would not suit a Cubist painter and why not start the charge for change with a self-portrait.
Another of Picasso’s Cubist portraits was of Ambroise Vollard, 1910.
This stage of Cubism has it’s own challenges for portraits, as elements are distorted, fragmented and become less recognisable, one may not even recognise themselves. Nevertheless Picasso in Figure 5 portrait of Ambroise Vollard he has captured his likeness, with his gruff demeanor. The background and Vollard’s torso is merged into a smooth pattern, one dissolves into the other; it merges together, as if fading to bring another element forward. You can’t tell where his hands and arms are placed or what he is wearing. Vollard’s face stands out by the highlighting of the painting, the white hair, the shine on his balding head and the features of his face, like the eyes, mouth and nose. It was a real portrait, definitely not Renaissance style but the Cubist left Vollard’s face recognisable. Maybe he wanted to reveal the story of his gruff demeanor, his character was all in the face, and that’s all people saw of him, so why should the painting concern itself with this element. As the background blends with the foreground it gives the impression that aside from Vollard’s face, everything else is as one. That only face is important.
A photographic collage by David Hockney aptly named My Mother, 1982 and Mother, 1985 of his mother.
The woman, his mother, is reflecting upon her surroundings, she contemplates her on death. The setting is one of gloom, and judging from her clothes and her posture she is affected by the weather, which seems cold, damp and dreary, some may say suiting the setting. She has covered herself so well from the weather that we cannot see her beauty, she hides her hands and her head is covered that we can only see her face. Set in the Venerable graveyards, of Bolton Abbey this snapshot is formed by dislocated individual pictures, placed in a way that gives a panoramic view of the setting without losing the focus of the woman, it breaks the formality of the single viewpoint picture. Is her look of any photographer’s model that has had enough of the sitting in the cold, damp place? Saying have we finished yet? And can I move now? It is quite possible. This shows another photographic collage of Hockney’s Mother.
Both show individual photographs being taken from different perspectives and at slightly different times of the session. There is no doubt that the final result has an affinity to Cubism and shows Hockney’s view of the way vision works with art.
He believed that the eye did not work like a camera. When we look at the world we scan the scene, by building up our view from the individual elements. As we move through a scene we see objects from many points of view and we will focus on those elements that seem to capture our attention. When we look through a camera we fix on a single moment, the photograph captures a moment; there is no sense of time. What is captured is from the viewpoint of the photographer, what they see and choose to take. This is purely one particular way of seeing and representing the world. Like the Renaissance of their one viewpoint perspective but Hockney with his “Cubist photography” and the Cubists’ had a dislike for this, they preferred their Cubist approach of multiple viewpoints.
Cubism had no boundaries, no restrictions for what can be seen. It gave artists the power to create a new composition from the old, turning something everyday into something thought provoking. Artists were able to distort, bend, straighten, flatten, turn upside down it was no holds barred. The most eye-catching of Cubism were the multiple viewpoints, the old rules of perspective where gone.
When we experience the world around us we see it in many different ways, we use all our senses to see it, we hear, touch, feel and see it. When we view the Cubist paintings and sculptures see the movement of the painting from the multiple viewpoints, and the artist evokes a feeling in the viewer. Whether you love it or hate it, Cubism did evoke a feeling from the viewer and isn’t that what the artist wants to create an impression?
A ‘pop artist’ sits comfortably and happy with his eye-fooling illusionism of ‘joiners’, knowing that he has paid homage to Pablo Picasso whom he so admires that he is inspired by his Cubist style and transforms his owns way of ‘drawing’ and ‘painting’. Around him lie piles of scattered Polaroids, there are hundreds and as he sifts through them a puzzling picture is formed. You do recognise elements and slowly a picture story is revealed.
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David Hockney – Photo-collage